By Brandon Schatz, with edits and contributions by Danica LeBlanc
The same rules apply as they did last week. This “journal” exists as a chronicle of specific circumstance, and as the experience of someone who had been working in the industry for over thirteen years. All of this has been recorded with pen on paper, with embellishments in this format provided by greater context. Nothing stated here is intended as a solution, or a representation of a larger experience, and for my own sanity, I am not reading the comments (nor did I last time). Danica, however, makes no such promises.
This is also intended to be specific to the comic book industry. Yes, there are far larger problems in the world, and I am aware that the fate of the comic industry is small potatoes in comparison to everything that is happening. Other people are more equipped to talk about the larger things, and as I did last time, I suggest you seek out The Worst Year Ever podcast, as they are doing fine work (in between covering the US election, which is what they originally set out to do).
Now, onto this week’s journal.
On Monday, March 23rd, Diamond announced they would no longer be accepting new product, or shipping anything but reorders to the United States, and the United States only. On March 28th, DC Comics finally put out some concrete information about their plan to go forward during this era of publishing and distribution. It was at this time that the company stated that they were looking into alternative distribution methods from Diamond, and would be continuing to publish some of their content in the digital realm before it saw print. Many people assumed this meant DC would be publishing a lot of their print series digitally before the books would be distributed. This was not the case.
I’m going to reproduce a quote that made the rounds from a DC rep here. This was stated in a private group whose rules prohibit sharing such information. However, many people did. For the sake of my ability to continue within that group, I’ll note that I’m publishing this information from the sources from outside that group.
“Here’s where we are on digital. All our data shows the digital consumer and the physical consumer are two different audiences. For now, we’re going to continue to release digital comics, but will revisit this if the pipeline for physical distribution continues to be challenged and disrupted.”
You will notice that there was not a mention of the company intending to take current print products, and serialize ongoing storylines in the digital medium prior to physical release. Not specifically. Was that the intent? Maybe. Probably. There are people out there who know for sure, but I doubt they’ll be saying anything soon. Nor should they. I believe what was stated applied to the line of digital first comics that they’ve been doing in waves for years. To date, I haven’t seen anything official stating otherwise.
The day kicked off with Diamond announcing they would be returning to distribution in mid-May. Shortly afterwards, DC made the shocking announcement that they had secured the services of two new distributors to distribute their physical products in a more timely manner. Appearing out of the ether, Lunar Distribution and UCS Distribution were announced as disruptors to the Diamond “monopoly”. In short measure, these companies were revealed to be run by Discount Comic Book Service and Midtown Comics respectively.
Almost immediately, retailers started to revolt. The reasons were legion, and in some cases, ridiculous. One of the most prevalent rejections was the idea that ordering from these companies would give DCBS and Midtown comics vital store secrets – as though the act of letting people know just how many copies of The Flash they were ordering was some kind of business threatening scoop.
Here’s a neat fact: if your business is on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram and has any sort of engagement, you are providing your competitors more actionable information about your business than your order numbers could ever provide. Those platforms are built on monetizing information that you and your customers give them, and they are selling that information to DCBS and Midtown. Rejecting access to product on the basis of “trade secrets” is absolutely ridiculous considering what you’re giving away for free. That said, their information is available to you as well. All you have to do is dig through ad settings on various social media platforms, spend a couple dollars, and the world is your oyster.
Other concerns were more valid. DC’s offices were closed, but they were still expecting shops to distribute product to customers. That remains a hard thing to reconcile. Sadly, there aren’t any perfect solutions to the problems being caused within the industry due to COVID-19. For every person who requires product flow to keep their business or family afloat, there’s a very real cost of exposure that travels up and down the business chain. Everyone is just trying to do what they need to try and survive, and that includes DC.
When Diamond announced it was shutting down for an indeterminate amount of time, there were clear ripple effects that touched every corner of the industry. For retail stores that were shut down, turning off the product taps was a bit of a blessing. Without the structures set up to get physical product to their customers, those shops were struggling. Being given some time to break and build those structures was greatly needed. That said, there were stores that already had systems set up, such as my own. We developed an in-city delivery program a few years back in order to help serve people with low mobility and time constraints. We had a website built the year before to help folks browse a curated selection of product. We were very active on social media and had the contact information for the majority of our customers. Getting the word out and continuing to suggest products to people was not a problem. Not being able to get that product in… well, that has been a different story.
Since we opened the store in 2015, we always did our best to try and confront and find solutions to broken parts of this industry. One of the ways we did this was by looking beyond Diamond for product sources, working with different companies so we wouldn’t be so reliant on a monolith that didn’t want to adjust their methods despite modern changes to the business.
We started getting graphic novels for several other sources. A good portion of them gave a better deal than Diamond had ever given us, and that was before you factored in the free shipping most of these other companies offered. Delivery was also faster. When we place a re-order with Diamond, the earliest we’ll see it in our shipment is two weeks after the fact. Diamond doesn’t do direct shipping re-orders outside of the States, which also meant we were getting no service from them at all. Thankfully, we had access to graphic novels and supplies through the other companies we fostered relationships with. Because of this, we were able to supply our customers with almost anything they requested, and could do so in a timelier manner then Amazon.
So when DC first announced that they were looking at other distributors, we were accepting of the situation. We had done the same thing ourselves – identified a broken system, and sought to find or build something that worked better. The fact that Lunar Distribution (our assigned distributor) happened to be DCBS wasn’t surprising or off-putting. It seemed like a logical move. Outside of Diamond, there aren’t many companies with the infrastructure to distribute single issues and maintain profitability. In fact, the argument can be made that Diamond hasn’t been able to make that model work too well themselves. Book publishers might, but they certainly don’t seem like they want to.
When confronted with a break in the distribution chain – one that could (and I think will) collapse again in the future as another pandemic wave hits – DC sought a better situation for themselves and found it. It didn’t work for everyone, but it was done without force. A shop was still given the option to choose how they would like to proceed in ways that would be best for their business.
As for the store I co-run, we did our due diligence when it came time to potentially place orders with Lunar. Being located in Alberta, Canada, we inquired about the shipping rates – and found them wanting. Not only would we have to cover a significant shipping cost, but we’d be on the hook for the duty as well. With the costs associated with Lunar causing more of a burden than a benefit in our case, we decided against placing our orders through the company. Immediately after we came to this decision, we sent a missive to our assigned DC “sales specialist”, stating the how’s and why’s of the situation, and implored the company to look into a better Canadian solution. He said that he would pass that information up the chain, for whatever that is worth.
If DC – or any company – comes up with a more palatable solution to Diamond, we will surely be jumping onto that track. We have been for quite some time, as have many others. For some, the solutions offered won’t be for them, and that’s fine. Every store has their strengths and opportunities, and it is important to identify what yours are and play to them.
For myself, I’m quite content with my situation. In terms of single issues, I’m currently happy to get them from Diamond. For graphic novels, I am more than happy to get them from almost anywhere else, because I’m provided with a great deal of benefit for doing so. I would spend my efforts on trying to get Diamond to change, but that’s a battle I don’t see the benefit in fighting, honestly. I don’t believe that the current form of print single issues are long for this world… at least from Marvel and DC. I think we’re seeing the final days of that idea, and that change is needed. I don’t say that with glee – I love the single issue format. I just think it is an inferior delivery system considering the tools we have available today. That whole kettle of fish is another journal entry entirely – which I’ll be talking about next week alongside Marvel’s decision to continue publishing a few of their series as “digital only” offerings.
We’ll end this week’s entry just as we did last weeks, with a note.
I will not be reading any comments on this article, nor will I be responding to any social media contact regarding it outside of “thanks for reading”, if that response suits. This is more for personal time and sanity reasons, so y’all just… talk amongst yourselves.
Obviously, there’s a lot more to cover, including the decisions DC Comics have made recently, and whatever other companies will be announcing soon. I will be covering that shortly, in this format, because… well, being disjointed and angry means these can come out faster. Hurray.
We’ll talk with you all soon.